A Metaphor of Primitivism:
Cannibals and Cannibalism in French
Anthropological Thought of the 19th Century
Centre National de la Recherche Scientiﬁque, France
56 ESTUDIOS DEL HOMBRE
19th century anthropological thought was obsessed with the phenomenon of
cannibalism, as reported by travellers, missionaries and incipient scientists,
although the theme is ancient and appears frequently in occidental mythology.
Anthropological discourse swiftly developed competing views of the phenomenon,
ranging from deep-seated atavistic urges (bestialism) to ritualistic practices
(culturalism). Here, classiﬁcation of cannibalistic practices offers insight into
Among all the criteria recognised as the basis of the “singular other”, the
consumption of human ﬂesh is certainly the most emotionally signiﬁcant.
More disconcerting or more hateful than incest, anthropophagia was
rapidly established as one of the fundamental elements of the structure1 of
anthropological thought in the 19th century. It was however making use of
an ancient topic, in the sense that cannibalism has always been established
as the classic factor to draw the line between humanity and savagery in the
imagination of European societies (Sténou 1998: 52). This construct also
appeared in the ﬁrst reports of western travellers in the Old World (Malaysia,
New Guinea, and Africa) and notably in the New World (the Tupinambas
of Brazil, the Indians of the Caribbean, the Aztecs of Mexico). It simply
reinforced the western founding myths of “otherness” as established by
the Egyptians,2 as well as Greek and Nordic mythology. Thus, Columbus
arriving on the northern coast of Cuba would record, according to this
tradition, what the Arawak said of other peoples, such as the Monoculi
and the Cynocephales who lived further to the east and had already been
described in the Western world by Pliny, Saint Augustine and Isidore of
Seville (Lestringant, 1994).
All this must be understood in the perspective of western mythologies, of
which the Greek world was the epitome of a model of order, in the sense given
by Gernet (1982), that of the Cosmos. The Lestrygons, giant cannibals who
A METAPHOR OF PRIMITIVISM: CANNIBALS AND CANNIBALISM 57
devoured strangers, are part of this cosmos, as are the Cyclops in the Odyssey
(among them Polyphemus), and they actually formed a mythical fraternity
representing a possible inversion of the established order, transforming humans
into food. Numerous mythological Greek tales have integrated anthropophagia
in the management of conﬂicts: one rarely eats the other for pleasure – except
Tydeus eating the brain of Melanippos, or Candules, king of Lydia, so greedy
for food that he devoured his own wife: one eats for vengeance or provocation.
Thus, Lycaon prepares a meal for Zeus in which he offers him the limbs
of Arcas, his son by Calypso; Atreus killed the three sons of Thyestes and
had them served to their father as a course in a banquet; Harpalyce, daughter
of Clymenos, the king of Arcadia who committed incest with her, out of
vengeance fed her father her three young brothers (of which one would have
been her own son); Procne feeds her husband Tereus the ﬂesh of their own son,
as vengeance for his cruelty and awful behaviour towards her sister Philomele.
The body of man also becomes food in the Odyssey, when Circe transforms
Odysseus’ companions into pigs (Grimal, 1986). So, from the beginning of
the development of Mediterranean societies, “man meat” is a throwback to the
biological reality of human nature: the fact that we are animals, thus a possible
food, or “consumable” in nutritional terms.
The inventory presented by Amunategui (1971) concerning “beasts”
considered edible in our society is particularly instructive. The fact that
he begins his book by mentioning cannibals reveals the necessary distance
to be maintained between consumers and consumed, disgust and desire.
In fact, western myths that include references to cannibalism make of
it a sacriﬁcial subject, verging on the religious by any standards, and
not as a foodway. Anthropologists of the past century would attempt to
interpret anthropophagia from a perspective of knowledge of the diversity of
customs to be found in humans. The transition from cannibalism to religious
anthropophagia became a necessary transition from nature to culture.
THE ANTHROPOLOGISTS’ ANTHROPOPHAGY
Within the ﬁrst year of the establishment, in 1860, of the Anthropological
Society of Paris, an important debate took place on the question of
anthropophagia. It began with a paper given by Monsieur de Rochas on the
58 ESTUDIOS DEL HOMBRE
New Caledonians, which was read during the 24th meeting of the Society,
on July 5th 1860, which in turn provoked a discussion on the understanding
and interpretation of the practice of cannibalism. Monsieur Boudin, in this
ﬁrst encounter, raised the question of whether this type of practice was of
nutritional or ritual nature among these people and if the New Caledonians
preferred the ﬂesh of their own to that of the Whites, which was reputed to
be too salty, as Dumont d’Urville had heard mention in several archipelagos
of Polynesia (Boudin, 1860). Questioned on this subject, Monsieur de
Rochas answered that the practice was purely nutritional and that, in fact,
the “natives” preferred the ﬂesh of their own (Rochas, 1860). Monsieur de
Castelnau then voiced his disagreement, opining that anthropophagia could
only have a religious origin. Boudin then argued that a question so important
for anthropology should not be lightly set aside, and suggested that it should
be included in the themes for a later meeting (Broca, Quatrefages, Boudin,
Rochas, Bertillon, Gosse, Castelnau, 1860). Boudin’s idea was accepted and
French anthropological literature on the subject has been relatively abundant
until the end of the century.3 However, the theme would practically disappear
from anthropological concerns after 1914.
Behind this more or less objective and serious discourse, anthropologists
moved towards an attempt to establish classiﬁcation of this phenomenon, in
order to better understand the bases of human nature, and to unveil a system
of hierarchy of human values in a strongly evolutionist perspective. That
is why anthropophagia was classiﬁed into different categories which were
supposed to be exclusive of each other, proceeding from “the more natural”
to “the more cultural”.
First came cannibalism for nutrition, which could be sporadic (because of
famine, war, accidents...) or “gastronomical” (as described of the Marquesas,
but also for New Zealand, Canaques, Papuans, Mexicans, Australians…).
This ﬁrst category, that belonged to “primitivism”, was in contrast to a more
cultural form of anthropophagia, which was ritualised, either through war or
religion.4 And ﬁnally, a form described with much more ambiguity on the
part of the anthropologists in so far as they wanted to classify it within the
sphere of medicine: what we might call pathological cannibalism.5
A METAPHOR OF PRIMITIVISM: CANNIBALS AND CANNIBALISM 59
Endo- and exo-cannibalism in some societies
Ethnic group Object Mode Source
Endocannibalism Tapuyas [strict social Chiefs (Chiefs), Flesh, bones Jehan
endocannibalism] (Rio warriors (warriors), pounded with
Grande, South America) children (mothers), maize, hair with
elderly (children) honey
Endocannibalism Bhenderwas Elderly, incurably Jehan
(Inde - As) sick (family, friends)
Endocannibalism Fuegians Elderly females Flesh Nadaillac
(South America) (family)
Exocannibalism Celebes (O) Enemies Heart Jehan
Exocannibalism Caribbean Enemies (men) Nape of neck, neck, Trélat
Exocannibalism Neo-caledonians Enemies Rochas
(food) [not Europans,
ﬂesh too salty]
Mixed Enemies + Montrouzier
Sorcerers + Subjects
Mixed Bathas (Sumatra) Adulterers, night Alive criminals: Jehan
thieves, blood raw or grilled, salted,
relations, prisoners of peppered and with
war lemon (must be eaten
on the spot where killed)
Forbidden to women
60 to 100 individuals a
If, as early as 1890, in The Golden Bough Frazer had associated
cannibalism with the appropriation of virtues from the dead (Frazer,
1981-1984), French anthropologists rather took their positions from an
evolutionist perspective, establishing anthropophagia as a milestone in
cultural evolution for the better, since it moved away from the practice
of consuming raw dead carcasses. For them, cannibalism signiﬁed the
passage from nature to culture through the abandonment of the raw
for the cooked. Actually, there is a possible rereading of anthropology
through the prism of structuralism (Kilani, 1996).
60 ESTUDIOS DEL HOMBRE
The conclusion of this anthropological discourse seemed to be that the
adoption of cannibalism followed by progressive rejection of it by human
societies was considered to demonstrate manifest progress towards a model
of civilisation; this evolution was described as “obvious” in the diachronic
perspective of the evolution of our own societies, but it sometimes had to
be “helped along” in the cases of societies that still condoned it to that
day. Anthropophagia obviously constituted a phenomenon which situated
societies outside civilisation; it demonstrated lack of aptitude to reach
civilisation for peoples who still practised it (Cf. Corre, 1894: 452); and
it could only signify madness or moral deviation when it appeared. (Cf.
Marie and Zaborowski, 1931). The case of Léger, an imbecile suffering
from melancholy, tried in 1824 and condemned to death, is famous in the
annals of the anthropology of crime: he raped his expiring victim and ate
her still palpitating heart. (Quoted by Trélat, 1870: 340)
One of the main questions to be answered by anthropology of the
XIXth century was whether cannibalism had existed since the beginning
of time among humans; that is, whether it had been a necessary stage in
the process of development; whether it still existed; and in what kind of
society it was to be found. The idea was to try to understand whether this
practice was proof of the residual, persistent stamp of “nature” (which
is to say, “bestiality”) or, on the other hand, a special form of cultural
adaptation. In this way, cannibalism would be described successively in
terms of persistent savagery and animality, particularly for authors like
Jehan de Saint Clavien, Corre or Topinard; of decadence for Pruner-Bey;
or, at the opposite end of the scale, as a form of social development for
Vogt, Girard de Rialle, Letourneau or Zaborowski.
For the partisans of the idea of persistence of animality demonstrated
by the practice of anthropophagia, all of whom generally belonged to the
school of creationism and monogenism, cannibalism could still be found
among certain groups. Jehan de Saint-Clavien, a monogenist, thought
that among the “uncivilised” cannibalism was dominant, but “among the
civilised nations it is only a sort of accidental phenomenon, isolated, and
outside the bounds of civilisation” (Jehan de Saint-Clavien, 1853: 1035).
This author however, becomes somewhat confused by the great number
of reports and accounts on the subject, and when he attempts to present
A METAPHOR OF PRIMITIVISM: CANNIBALS AND CANNIBALISM 61
the geographical distribution of the phenomenon, he mistakes his sources,
and he states at the same time that 1) “Anthropophagia was no more
widely distributed in the past than in the New World” (Jehan de Saint-
Clavien, 1853: 1035), that 2) “It is useless to reproduce the long list of the
anthropophagous peoples of Africa”; and 3), “It is especially in Oceania
that one should look for cannibalism” (Jehan de Saint-Clavien, 1853:
1036). Finally he attempts to show that it is a regressive process:
We must recognise that man in the savage state is only an incomplete and unﬁn-
ished creature. The persistence of certain appetites and their association to the
coarse ideas and ferocious passions which maintain them, only show that the
intellectual and moral parts are still stunted in their development. Is saying that
cannibalism is one of the distinctive characters of the human species, as certain
authors have maintained, not mutilating his nature and taking away from him
that which is his essential attribute? If a civilised nation remained cannibal, it
would be, in the order of society, what monsters are in the order of the physique.
(Jehan de Saint-Clavien 1853: 1040)
Leaving aside ecological or nutritional reasons, anthropology has
generally considered anthropophagia to be a phenomenon of a “status of
mental inferiority” and not as a characteristic “of beasts and criminals”
(Trélat, 1870: 304). Whatever the case, certain authors considered it would
affect only the most inferior “races”, the most bestial, or those most
incapable of the least reﬁnement. Thus, for Topinard, cannibalism,
the most bestial act to be recorded in the annals of the human species, still exists
in Australia, but is progressively disappearing. The majority of natives hide it
from the whites […] they would (on the Isaac River) sacriﬁce plump young girls
on certain feasts, and even children would be raised for this ignoble aim. The
preferred morsels would be the leg and the hand. What could be the reason for
this custom? Everything points to the need for food. There has been talk of expe-
ditions when prisoners were dismembered and devoured. (Topinard, 1872: 289)
In contrast to Jehan de Saint-Clavien or Topinard, who are content to
simply pass on reported facts, the physician Armand Corre recommends
radical intervention against the practice of anthropophagia in the
62 ESTUDIOS DEL HOMBRE
establishment of a colony: “But it is not admissible, in any degree
whatsoever, that a civilised nation which has become a civilising one
should tolerate negative acts. The European does not have to respect
ritual sacriﬁce and cannibalism wherever he ﬁnds them well established.”
(Corre, 1894: 10) For Corre “The white criminal remains European, as the
black criminal remains African […and] one could not mention progressive
evolution to explain this fact for the black, and mention it at the same time
as retrogressive evolution to explain criminality in Europeans.” (Corre,
On the other hand, for the supporters of the “evolutionist” tendency (Vogt,
Letourneau, Zoborowski), anthropophagia is certainly an indispensable step
for the development of a complex social organisation (Vogt, 1871). “War
starts with the origins of humanity. A tribe of hunters does not only hunt
game; if this becomes scarce, the enemy himself becomes a source of food”,
explains Ploix (1872: 26). “It seems certain that cannibalism is not primitive.
It appears, at a certain degree of social organisation, consecutive to the
development of inequalities which allow certain men to consider others
as simple game.” (Zaborowski, 1891: 34) Vogt also, makes cannibalism a
necessary stage of transition from the state of nature to that of culture: “Man,
primitively a fructivore, must necessarily arrive through the progress of his
development, to the consumption of human ﬂesh, before then getting rid of
this horrid custom through the puriﬁcation brought on by his religious and
humanitarian ideas.” (Vogt, 1871: 298) Letourneau tries to demonstrate that
human progress is expressed in terms of social organisation and that it cannot
be measured in terms of morality, in opposition to the classical statements of
creationist and monogenist anthropologists of the times:
I have already had occasion to observe that, at least among primitives, there is no
relation between the intellectual and moral sides of mentality. This point of view
is fully conﬁrmed by the study of cannibalism in Africa. Thus, in East Africa, the
small population of the Mombouttous, an Ethiopian race, is intellectually supe-
rior to its neighbours, for the most part of inferior race and less civilised. They
treat them as they would game and organise hunting parties to procure meat. On
the battle ﬁeld they cut up and smoke the ﬂesh of those they have killed. The
prisoners are herded, like sheep, to be butchered for meat. (Letourneau, 1901:
109-110, quoting Schweinfurth, “The Heart of Africa”)
A METAPHOR OF PRIMITIVISM: CANNIBALS AND CANNIBALISM 63
He then quotes Du Chaillu: “The same moral contrast, extremely interesting
for the psychology of human races, has also been observed in West Africa,
among the Fans […] who buy the deceased of neighbouring tribes to eat
them.” (Letourneau, 1901: 110, quoting Du Chaillu, Voyage dans L” Afrique
Equatoriale) “In other places, customs of more than bestial savagery can
coincide with a certain material civilisation.” (Idem: 110) The lawyer Royer-
Collard even attempts to give it legal dimension, writing in the Encyclopedia
of the XIXth Century: “It is by respect of the laws and institutions of their
ancestors that the Batta are cannibals. These laws condemn adulterers, night
robbers and prisoners to be eaten alive.” (Royer-Collard, 1869: 186)
Anthropophagia is thus situated in the history of human sacriﬁce. It is a
communion and sacriﬁce intended to renew, by ritualised cannibalism, the
alliance with the supernatural world and to appropriate, by incorporating
the matter of the sacriﬁce, mysterious and powerful forces.
On all other occasions in which the Australian consumes human ﬂesh or blood,
there appears to be superstition and mysticism about the manner of behaving:
the sorcerer must taste human ﬂesh at least once in order to acquire supernatu-
ral powers; the warrior dips his spear in the blood to make it more deadly; the
mother eats her dead child to keep her fertility. Among some tribes, the dead
parents are eaten as an act of piety.” (Pruner-Bey, 1860)
Strabon had already written that the inhabitants of Ireland thought it
respectable to devour the corpses of their parents. Thus they honour them,
by giving them a grave which honours them.
Bordier offers another interpretation suggesting that, on the contrary,
endocannibalism would have restricted all conﬁdence and sense of mutual
security in the midst of a primitive group (Bordier, 1888) and that therefore
the equivalent of “matrimonial exogamy”, that is human “exophagy” (or
exocannibalism), would have had to be established early on. They would
then have made war on neighbouring tribes, and these, defeated, were
eaten. But, so long as exophagy remained dangerous (because it calls for
vengeance) they would have gone back to eating members of their group,
mainly criminals. Bordier’s demonstration is perfect in the sense that it
takes us back to endocannibalism after attempting to get out of it. This
64 ESTUDIOS DEL HOMBRE
essential concept of endocannibalism was somewhat later formalised by
Steinmetz (1896) as the custom of eating one’s parents or near relatives.
He sees in it a natural remnant of the instincts of primitive man “when he
wandered, solitarily, through virgin forests, without realising the possibility
of forming a social group of any kind.” (Steinmetz, 1896) For Deniker
(1900), Steinmetz’s theory faces great difﬁculty in so far as contemporary
cannibal groups (such as the Australian tribes) avoid eating their own dead
and exchange them with other clans so as to eat non-related individuals.
This is what would be observed by Monsignor Le Roy in 1894, among
the Fans, when he went up the Haut-Ogoüé in Gabon, where “the dear”
deceased were consumed only by neighbours not related to the family.” (Le
Roy, 1911: 151) But, paradoxically among the same Fans, a criminal, or
by default a member of his family, would be killed and eaten as an act of
revenge, thus showing that endocannibalism could also be a formalisation
of justice and not only a ritual of appeasement to one’s ancestors.
The question of anthropophagia is fascinating because it is one of the
phobias of the Western World in their encounters with exotic societies. It
attributes three causes to cannibalism: necessity, greed and superstition.
The regression of this practice can be explained, according to Deniker,
simply by the fact that “Ever expanding civilisation makes it decrease.”
(Deniker, 1900: 27) The diachronic dimension appears important since
anthropophagia would be an atavism inherited from our prehistoric
ancestors: “A certain number of isolated cases of anthropophagia in Europe,
in a civilised environment, without nutritional need, allow us to regard
these facts as of atavistic origin, exactly like the teratological persistence
of cannibalism among our primitive ancestors.” (Bordier, 1888: 71) This
would still be present then (in the XIXth century) among the most primitive
populations. But the ﬁrst paradox of cannibalism is that the anthropologists’
scientiﬁc interest in it developed at the precise moment when it was
disappearing, and it seems that before the XIXth century, the western world
had lost even the remotest memory of it (Green, 1972).
A METAPHOR OF PRIMITIVISM: CANNIBALS AND CANNIBALISM 65
For the anthropologist today, the problem that remains is how to
interpret cannibalism, when nutritional reasons are excluded. Even this
exclusion, however, is not so obvious today, since while allowing for the
anecdotal nature of reports, or the legitimacy which it can have accorded
to the colonial process, there is a revived interest in anthropophagia among
the anthropo-ecologists, who are establishing hypotheses of nutritional
cannibalism, which Paul Deschamps had already constructed in 1925,
around the terms of “want”, “famine” and “human raising”. Ortiz de
Montellano (1978) and Marvin Harris (1979) justiﬁed it as an appropriate
nutritional strategy in the face of lack of animal protein. Dornstreich and
Morren (1974) follow the same reasoning when they explain, for instance,
that in medium populated areas of New Guinea, the consumption of 10
adults a year by a group of some hundred individuals would compensate
for the protein obtained from a whole herd of pigs.
In fact, the problem certainly resides in the symbolic aspects of the
phenomenon, which concern not only western points of view, but also
the way we look at “others”. Already Jean de Léry in his Voyage fait au
Brésil, or Michel de Montaigne in his Essais, use the category “cannibal”
to shed light on the social logic in position in their own country at that
time (Lestringant, 1994). A recent volume of African stories concerning
cannibalism illustrates this point of view. Collected from parents or
grandparents, these cannibal stories can surprise us today. They reveal a
disquieting universe, already described in other terms by different observers
(travellers or missionaries), people who found themselves in these cultures
as “outsiders”. Here, the authors give us an “emic” aspect, that is, as seen
from the inside. The Africans tell us African cannibal stories in which the
“hunted” are always the narrators, the “cannibals” being the “others”; this
takes up the concept of the “other” as an acceptable but phantasmagorical6
category. These stories might have the structure of tales, but we also know
that the tale possesses some virtues, particularly that of being spiritual
explorations and also warnings (Bettelheim, 1976). In any case, these tales
surely express a certain universality of fear in the face of anthropophagia,
the fear of being eaten. Europe also has had its ogres, its werewolves and
its ghouls. But the difference in the tales we mention here is that there are
no speciﬁcally supernatural beings. They are simply humans, and one never
66 ESTUDIOS DEL HOMBRE
knows who is a cannibal and who is not. Here we have cannibals motivated
by greed or pleasure. In other words, a disquieting vision of the world.
We have seen that for the anthropologists of the XIXth century, two
theories were in opposition. The ﬁrst one suggested cannibalism as a
necessary stage, common to the development of all human societies,
although they failed to demonstrate this scientiﬁcally. The second theory
explained all social phenomena through religion, without telling us why
certain societies were cannibalistic and others were not.
In a famous article, “Table manners, bed manners and manners of
language,” Jean Pouillon (1972), analysing Freud’s writings on the matter,
shows the relativism of the prohibition of incest and cannibalism: he
indicates that the ﬁrst is generally justiﬁed and often violated, whereas the
second is not justiﬁed, but respected (Pouillon 1972). Obviously here the
interpretation is ethnocentric: our societies have to judge affairs of incest
more often than cases of cannibalism. Thus, human ﬂesh (which we never
call human “meat”) would be, in our culture at least, more of an object of
desire than an object of want.
If cannibalism is further distanced from us than incest, it is because it’s
a stranger to us. “We have talked about love. It is hard to switch from
people who make love to people who eat each other,” wrote Voltaire in his
Dictionnaire Philosophique (1994). However, incest prohibition is common
to humanity, while cannibalism is not. The prohibition of incest (actually of
incestuous marriage, not the incestuous sexual act) is a mark of culture, just
as the “cooked”. But that is not of the case for cannibalism (its prescription
or prohibition have the same cultural status). After all, what anthropologists
said about anthropophagia reﬂected their own representation of the world
and not that of reality; they were ﬁrst inﬂuenced by the extravagant
tales of travellers, then by the moralizing discourse of missionaries, just
as African oral tradition expressed collective anxieties. Thus, in this
view, numerous cannibal populations would have perpetrated uncontrolled
anthropophagia, eating, almost randomly, any parent or enemy. However,
certain anthropologists understood the difference and placed the accent on
the ritual aspect of cannibalism. As for marriage, where a group can practise
exclusively either endogamy or exogamy, anthropophagia is structured. Its
practice and rituals reﬂect the group’s cosmogony. This is why one cannot at
A METAPHOR OF PRIMITIVISM: CANNIBALS AND CANNIBALISM 67
the same time practice exo- and endo-cannibalism, as some authors claimed.
(Cf. for example Jehan de Saint-Clavien, 1853) In so called “societies with
progressive personality enrichment” one goes from the inferior status of
adolescent to adult status, then to old, and then sometimes to that of ancestor:
death appears then as a necessary step in the ascending progression of man.
The ancestor is respected and his body, then associated with indestructible
power, must remain within the group, thus justifying endocannibalism. On
the other hand, in so-called “warring societies”, the adolescent warrior’s
dream of a perfect death is the one found in the course of valiant ﬁghting,
since only the warrior who dies in combat can be elevated to consecrated
immortal status; if he escapes death, his status will decrease with age
(Bastide, 1970). These societies have a pronounced tendency to value bodily
strength and the power of hedonism. In order to take the vital strength
of the enemy and increase their own power, individuals of these societies
will be more easily prone to exocannibalism. Thus, as opposed to incest,
cannibalism, because it possesses rituals, is integrated into the cosmos.
Finally, we can speculate on which is closer to the “savage”: the
Yanomami who eats his dead ancestor; or the Marind who eats an enemy,
aiming at cosmic harmony; or the Westerner who invents industrialised
warfare ranging from nuclear bombs to anti-personnel mines, for the gain
of political or economic power, yet who is overtaken by violent nausea at
the very idea of eating ﬂesh from his own species. In essence, this means
that each society believes itself to be the most developed in existence, and
that outside its boundaries, only chaos reigns. According to Jean Pouillon
(1972), the existence and perpetuation of a culture determines who its
members are. But, while we may deﬁne our own culture in terms of the
difference between ourselves and others, we still do not accept the principle
of symmetrical relations between cultures.
68 ESTUDIOS DEL HOMBRE
1. Anthropophagia: the eating of human ﬂesh. Cannibal (comes from cariba Caribbean):
it is said of an animal that takes nourishment from the ﬂesh of an animal of the same
2. According to Juvenal, the Egyptians reported that the Tintirites had eaten an enemy
that had fallen into their hands.
3. 49 articles are concerned with anthropophagy in the BMASP between 1859 and
1899; 11 in the Revue d’Anthropologie between 1890 and 1909.
4. And after the evolutionist classiﬁcations of the end of the XIXth century,
anthropologists would suggest new scales of values, starting from an “ecological”
vision of cannibalism towards a much more culturalist and symbolic perception.
5. The presentation of the diversity of forms deﬁned by anthropology would often be a
subject of voyeurism under the cover of surprise. (Cf.Villeneuve, 1979; Monestier, 2000)
6. Arens questions the very existence of anthropophagy, which could simply be a
phantasm. “The signiﬁcant question is not why people eat human ﬂesh, but why
one group invariably assumes that others do so.” (Arens, 1979: 139). This position
was criticised as “revisionist” by Abler (1980) and Forsyth on the face of facts, and
ideologically by Vidal-Naquet, 1987. In any case it does not take into account the
most tangible facts (for example Glasse, 1963).
Abler, T. S.
1980 “Iroquois cannibalism: fact not ﬁction”, in Ethnohistory, 27 (4): 309-316.
1971 Gastronomiquement vôtre. L’art d’accommoder les bêtes, Solar, Paris.
1979 The man-Eating myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy, New-York, Oxford
1970 “A travers la civilisation”, in Echanges, 98 (Le sens de la mort).
1985 (1976) Psychanalyse des contes de fées, R. Laffont, Paris.
1888 “L’Anthropophagie”, in Bulletins de la Société d’Anthropologie de Paris, 4e
série, XI: 62-71.
1860 “Sur l’anthropophagie et les sacriﬁces humains”, in Bulletins de la Société
d’Anthropologie de Paris, I: 452-454.
A METAPHOR OF PRIMITIVISM: CANNIBALS AND CANNIBALISM 69
Broca P., A. Quatrefages, Dr. Boudin, Dr. Rochas, A. Bertillon, Dr. Gosse, and Dr. Castelnau
1860 “Discussion sur les Néo-Calédoniens”, in Bulletins de la Société d’Anthropologie
de Paris, I: 401-416.
1889 Les Criminels : caractères physiques et psychologiques, Doin, Paris. 1894
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